I’m a Calvinist.1 If that hasn’t caused you to roll your eyes and back out or to call me a heretic condemned to hell, read on. The whole “Calvinism-Arminianism debate” may seem like a bunch of idiots arguing about nonsense that doesn’t matter, but it’s actually very important to how we speak with unbelievers.
One objection to Calvinism is that it gives us no reason to evangelize. If God will save the elect, why should I be involved? While Reformed theologians have thoroughly thumped this objection in the head and buried in the ground numerous times already, I’ll answer it: God ordains who is saved, and God ordains how and when they are saved. In Romans 10:14, Paul writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” That is to say, God has ordained to save his elect will by the preaching of God’s Word.2 And as we don’t know who those people are, we are to preach to everyone and let God sort them out.
The wonderful thing about this is that it relieves me of an enormous amount of pressure. Scripture speaks eternal truth, so it’s always relevant, even in the 21st century. I don’t need to dress up like a hipster or a hillbilly or keep up with all the current pop culture or political events to speak to an unbeliever about the gospel. It doesn’t hurt if I do, but it’s not necessary, and I already have a full time job. But more importantly, the Holy Spirit is irresistibly persuasive to Christ’s sheep. That means I don’t have to be. I can proclaim truth without fear.
But lest I sound like this guy, I have an example of this that took place a few months ago. Keep in mind that I have no access to the conversation anymore, so I have to recount this from memory. Hopefully I do so accurately.
I had a friend who we’ll call Jim. Jim once professed to be a Christian, but later became an atheist, came out as gay, and left his wife. One day around Easter this year, he shared an article on Facebook about Matthew 27:51–53. The article’s basic argument was that very few Christians even knew that this passage exists, and those who did didn’t believe it to be true. I responded, and we started discussing the Bible’s credibility.
Jim argued that the Bible wasn’t credible based on various factors: the gospel writers weren’t eyewitnesses, the gospels were written nearly a century after the events they tell, etc. Those points are at best debatable, and at worst completely and utterly moot. But I knew arguing those points wouldn’t get anywhere.
You see, the first point of Calvinism is Total Depravity. I was speaking with a man who was hellbent on believing that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist. He was not neutral, and he was not objective, contrary to his own claims. No one is. So even if I could prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that his arguments were wrong, that wouldn’t do anything.
So what did I do?
Before I did anything, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to respond ― all day, in fact. I knew that my exact argumentation wouldn’t make or break his conversion, but I wanted to be faithful to God and consistent with my own theology. I even read Cornelius Van Til’s Why I Believe in God (which you can read for free here). That helped to cement my response in my mind. Then, I began to type.
First, I pointed out the inconsistencies in his arguments (which goes beyond the scope of this post). But I went deeper by telling him why he was arguing inconsistently: he was blinded by sin and needed to repent. He so desperately wanted God to not exist that he would build any house of cards to make it so.3
Then, I preached the gospel. I knew that I couldn’t persuade him to turn back to God; but thanks to my Calvinism, I knew that wasn’t my job. Ultimately, it’s God’s choice whether he will use preaching to save or not. My job is simply to be faithful and honest.
What was the result? I wish I could give you a sterling tale of how Jim burst into tears, confessed his sin, returned to his wife, and is now looking to do missions trips to the Middle East. But not so; Jim unfriended me and my wife (that’s why I can’t access the conversation). I wrote in my journal the day I found that out that I hoped it was because he was offended by the gospel, and that I hadn’t put on a cruel tone or something.
But Calvinism comes into play there, too; while it’s tragic to watch someone forsake the entire kingdom of God to pursue sin, I know that his decision wasn’t my fault. It’s not that I hadn’t argued for Christianity effectively; it was because he, like all people apart from God’s saving grace, hates God and wants nothing more than for him to not exist. He’s actually morally incapable of turning to God in repentance; he needs God to renew his heart, to take away his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh. Without that, he’ll go on hating God, and loving to do so.
“Wait, Rodriguez,” you may be thinking, “With all this talk about ‘persuasion’ and ‘arguing for Christianity,’ you’re making this sound like an apologetic encounter, not evangelism.” And that’s another thing: for a Calvinist, the two go hand-in-hand. They ought to be the same thing. My Calvinism influences my approach to defending Christianity by showing someone why their argument doesn’t work and then addressing their need for the gospel.4 I don’t need to have a Ph.D in analytic philosophy contrary to what some people may say. I don’t need to be an expert on rock layers or biology. I need to know the Bible, and I need to share it. God is far more persuasive and authoritative than I can ever hope to be. It’s best for all of us if I stick to my job of faithfully preaching the gospel. God will do what he wants with it.
It really is that simple.
1 I’m assuming at least a basic understanding of what Calvinism is here. Also, I prefer the term “Reformed theologian,” but more people are familiar with the term “Calvinist.”
2 “Preaching” doesn’t only refer to a Sunday morning sermon. It can refer to one friend telling the other about the gospel. It can even refer to blog posts, books, etc. teaching biblical truth. I heard of someone who was saved while reading Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith.
3 Those weren’t my exact words, but you get the idea.
4 See this article by Dr. K. Scott Oliphint for more information.